Fresno Pepper: Much More Than A Jalapeño Look-Alike

| Last Updated: February 15, 2020 |

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More heat, more smoke, more fruitiness…when red

Fresno pepper fast facts:

  • Scoville heat units (SHU): 2,500 – 10,000 SHU
  • Median heat: 6,250 SHU
  • Origin: United States
  • Capsicum species: Annuum
  • Jalapeño reference scale: Equal heat (with the chance of slightly hotter)
  • Use: Culinary
  • Size: Approximately 2 to 3 inches long, slightly curved
  • Flavor: Sweet, Fruity, Smoky

It looks like a jalapeño and even tastes like a jalapeño, but the Fresno pepper has a few tricks up its sleeve that makes it a very popular chili in its own right. It delivers a slightly spicier kick, like a mild serrano chili, and in its mature red form, the Fresno pepper has a fruitier, smokier taste. This is a favorite for foodies looking for a twist on the norm.

So how do you tell the difference between a jalapeño and a Fresno pepper?

Not easily. These two chilies are in fact often confused for each other. They both share similar size traits – two to three inches long, slightly curved, and smooth skin. They both mature from green to a fiery red. As green chilies, they even share very similar tastes. It’s easy to see why even supermarkets mislabel Fresno peppers as jalapeños.

Fresno Pepper

Where the differences lie is the thickness of the walls, the taste as a mature red chili, and the overall heat:

  • Fresno peppers have thinner walls which make them more conducive to drying. They can be stuffed, but the jalapeño, with its thicker walls, is better for that use case.
  • The Fresno gains a smokier, fruitier taste than a jalapeño as it matures to its red hue. Many, in fact, prefer the more complex flavors of the Fresno over the jalapeño, especially those that love to experiment in the kitchen.
  • Both peppers have a similar heat level, but the Fresno kicks it up a notch as it ages.

How hot are we talking? How hot is a Fresno pepper?

On the Scoville scale, the Fresno chili ranges from 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville heat units. That again closely mirrors the jalapeño, but it can range closer to a mild serrano pepper in overall heat in its mature red form. Overall: this is a heat level that’s very kitchen-friendly, on the milder side of medium compared to other chilies.

Where did the name come from?

Fresno chilies were first cultivated in 1952 by Clarence Brown Hamlin, and he named the chili after Fresno, California. The Fresno is still widely grown in California.

What can you make with Fresno peppers?

Let’s first say that any recipe that calls for a jalapeño or serrano pepper is fair game for a Fresno pepper. They are terrific in salsas, hot sauces, and ceviche, and they stuff decently well too. Pickled Fresno chilies are loved by many, and cutting them fresh into rings for sandwiches and burgers (like the jalapeño) is very popular too.

The more complex flavors of the red Fresno compared to the jalapeño has made this a chili loved by foodies and gourmet restaurants. It’s a chili that’s ripe for culinary experimentation.

Where can you buy Fresno chilies?

You can find them fresh in supermarkets and farmer’s markets, especially on the west coast of the United States. They can be mislabeled as jalapeños, and, as mentioned, it’s tough to tell the difference when standing in the store. Online it’s easy to find Fresno pepper seeds and red Fresno hot sauces, among other jarred and bottled Fresno-based condiments.

The Fresno pepper may not be as widely available as the jalapeño, but if you do come across them in their mature red form, it’s well worth giving them a try. You may enjoy the uptick in spice and fruitier flavor. In fact, if you’re like many, it may be hard to go back to the jalapeño as your kitchen staple chili once you’ve tried the Fresno.

Related

  • I much prefer the Fresno over the jalapeño. Is it just me or do jalapeños seem less hot than they used to be? To me, they now just taste like a spicy cucumber. I’ve also noticed that they seem to have gotten bigger. Maybe they’re bred that way because of the popularity of using them for making poppers and other recipes where they are stuffed.

    • I’ve seen those mega jalapeños a lot in major chain supermarkets. There definitely seems to be a trend toward big and milder going on with those. I’ve noticed something similar. HUGE jalapeños without a lot of heat. Always thought the heat was being bred out, but never thought about the possible popper aspect. Good point.

      Also agree that Fresno peppers are pretty delicious:)

      • Most store Jalapeños are Jalapeño M. A milder commercial mass produced varietal. Their are Jalapeño varietals that are both larger and hotter like the Mucho Nacho. The original Poppers has seeds and were hotter Jalapeños. Consumers have requested a milder pepper. That’s why I grow my own.

        • That makes sense. From what I know of them they range from 2,000 to 5,000 SHU compared to 2,500 to 8,000 of a typical jalapeño. Slightly milder at the floor and a ton milder at its ceiling. Thanks for the insight!

    • Have you tried stuffing a Fresno with a comparable stuffing, such as cream cheese and compare flavor and heat that way? Something worth looking into

  • I recently discussed the heat intensity of Fresno and Jalapeño with someone who grows them in Novato, CA and she said how much they are watered also does affect their flavor and Scoville units level. So I guess the larger ones might be watered more to attain greater size & plumpness which probably causes the mild flavor effect mentioned in others’ comments. The similarity may also sometimes fool the labels at Safeway because they do look alike to me. How wonderful to blend with the sweet bell peppers to create one’s own “relish-jam-jelly” for dips and glazes!

    • Hi Tom – there’s definitely some of what you talk about in play. Refraining from overwatering is one of our tips in our How To Grow Hotter Peppers post. The strain to the plant actually produces a hotter pepper.

      I do think that some major supermarket chains purposely choose the larger, more watery peppers to sell simply because they do tend to be less hot. Typically the chilies I pick up from farmer’s markets tend to be hotter than those in chain supermarkets (at least to my experience).

      Thanks for the comment!

  • I grow both Fresno and jalapeno peppers and have no trouble identifying them: Fresno are more conical, while Jalapeno are more cylindrical. They’re both delicious, fresh, cooked or pickled.
    I personally like to “throw” in some Thai and Ghost peppers with them (when I pickle) for a some extra heat, to prevent me from eating half a jar (or more) in one seating.
    In my view, Fresno are somewhat more flavorful.

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